Ouattara’s Forces Advance in Abidjan; Massacre in Duekoue Leaves 800 Dead
The Republican Forces control more than 90 percent of Abidjan, Meite Sindou, a spokesman for the militia, said yesterday. Gunfire continued in the Plateau district, the site of the presidential palace, Agence France-Presse reported.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said the massacre took place in the western town of Duekoue as Ouattara’s troops moved toward Abidjan to try to oust incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo. Aid groups didn’t say who was responsible for the deaths in Duekoue.
The United Nations, the U.S., the African Union and the U.K. are calling on Gbagbo, 65, to hand power over to Ouattara, 69, whom they recognize as the winner of the nation’s first election in a decade. Gbagbo refuses to accept defeat in the Nov. 28 vote.
Ouattara’s forces entered Abidjan on March 30, attacking Gbagbo’s palace, army camps and the state-run television headquarters.
Cocoa prices dropped 7.1 percent last week as traders predicted an imminent end to the impasse in the world’s largest cocoa producer. The crisis led the West African nation to default on its $2.3 billion of Eurobonds, which have rallied 30 percent in 10 days as Ouattara’s forces advance.
The Duekoue massacre occurred on March 29 and is a result of “inter-communal violence,” Red Cross spokeswoman Dorothea Krimitsas said in an interview from Geneva yesterday. About 1,000 people died or disappeared in the town between March 27 and March 29 and the humanitarian situation in Ivory Coast “is rapidly deteriorating,” the Roman Catholic aid group Caritas said on its website.
“Lots of people were lying dead in the streets” of Duekoue, Kelnor Panglung, a spokesman for the Red Cross in Ivory Coast, said from Abidjan. “We could see a lot, a lot, a lot of people killed. It’s truly horrific. We don’t have any information about the authors of these killings.”
Ouattara’s administration called for an international investigation into the killings and denied its forces were involved in any human-rights abuses in the west of the country, according to an e-mailed statement from the Justice Ministry.
Ouattara will “ensure strict observance of human rights and bring all perpetrators of abuses against civilians to justice in national and international courts,” it said.
The UN said yesterday four of its peacekeepers were seriously wounded after coming under attack near Abidjan by forces loyal to Gbagbo, and warned troops loyal to Ouattara to “show restraint” after what the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights called “unconfirmed but worrying” reports of looting, extortion, abductions and ill treatment of civilians.
Aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres said even though major fighting between the groups seems to have ended in the western part of the country, “the situation nonetheless remains extremely tense and violent in and around several cities in the region.”
The UN said on March 31 that Liberian mercenaries loyal to Gbagbo were killing and looting in other areas in the west of the country, putting the death toll since the election at 494.
The death toll in Abidjan, located on the southeast coast, isn’t known. MSF said it treated 37 wounded on April 1, including 30 with gunshot wounds.
“Medical facilities across Ivory Coast can no longer provide medications and they lack basic medical equipment,” the group said.
Abidjan is the first place where Ouattara’s forces have met resistance from Gbagbo’s troops. Each side claimed to control the headquarters of the state-owned broadcaster, Radio Television Ivoirienne, RTI. The station came back on the air yesterday and issued a bulletin saying that Gbagbo was still at his residence. The broadcasts came from a van parked on a fly- over and not from the studio, Sindou said.
John Atta Mills, the president of Ghana, “has indicated his willingness to give political asylum to President Gbagbo if he asks for it,” spokesman Koku Anyidoho said in an interview broadcast on Accra-based Radio Gold yesterday. Gbagbo hadn’t yet asked for asylum, he said.
Gbagbo’s spokesman denied speculation he fled the country.
“Laurent Gbagbo is in his residence with his family,” Ahoua Don Mello said in an interview. “We call for negotiations. Ivorian society is divided and we need to heal it.”
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